Everyone dreams of winning the lottery, but scammers are out to turn that frequent dream into an absolute nightmare. A fake lottery scam involves a fraudster, or a ring of criminals, misrepresenting themselves as a legitimate lottery company to con victims out of their information and money. Here’s all you need to know about fake lottery scams. 

How the scams play out

In a fake lottery scam, a scammer will reach out to a potential target via phone, email or through social media platforms to inform them that they’ve won a large amount of cash, or major prizes, like a new car or other expensive goods. Alternatively, they may offer to let the target play a “free round” of lotto, which will miraculously result in an instant win.

To convince the target of their authenticity, the scammer may claim to represent a major lotto company, like Mega Millions, or another recognizable name. In some cases, they’ll pretend to represent a government agency, like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or an invented, but real-sounding, program like the “National Sweepstakes Organization”. 

The scam will conclude with the fraudster asking the target to share personal information, and/or to pay fees for covering “processing costs” and the like, which will supposedly allow the target to receive their prize. Of course, if information is shared, it will be used to empty the target’s accounts or commit identity theft, and if money is shared, it will never be seen again. Sadly, no sweepstakes or lottery has been won, either.

Red flags

Watch out for these red flags, which can alert you to the likelihood of a fake lottery scam:

  • A letter, email, popup window or social media message claiming you’ve won a lottery you’ve never entered.
  • You’re offered the opportunity to enter a lottery or sweepstakes at no cost.
  • You’re informed you’ve won a foreign lottery, or offered the opportunity to purchase tickets to one. 
  • You’re asked to share sensitive information over the phone or via email.
  • You’re asked to pay a fee to receive your prize.
  • The area code of the scammer’s phone number is foreign.
  • The email claiming you’ve won a prize is written poorly and has typos.
  • You are instructed to keep your win confidential or risk losing your prize.
  • The “lottery rep” offers to wire your winnings directly into your checking account.
  • The caller offers to send you a check for more than you’ve allegedly won, and then asks you to send back the surplus via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. 
  • You’re told you can “verify” the prize by calling a specific number.

Protect yourself

Arm yourself with these protective measures and information to keep safe from fake lottery scams:

  • Never share sensitive information with an unverified contact.
  • Be aware that it’s illegal for U.S. citizens to play a foreign lottery.
  • Don’t open emails or click on links from unverified contacts.
  • A legitimate lottery will never charge a fee or collect money for a “tax” for issuing a prize.
  • Never wire money or pay via prepaid debit card to an unknown contact. 
  • Keep the security on all your devices set to their highest settings and enable popup blocker features on your web browser.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’re being targeted by a fake lottery scam, don’t engage further with the scammer. End the call or delete the email, and then block the number or mark the email address as spam. Report the scam to the FTC, and, if relevant, to the legitimate lottery company the scammers are spoofing. You can also report the scam to your local law enforcement agency. Finally, let your friends know about the circulating scam so they know to be aware and be on guard. 

Lottery scams take what could possibly be the most exciting phone call of a lifetime, and turn it into the beginning of the worst nightmare ever. Don’t let them fool you! Stay alert and stay safe. 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a fake lottery scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 


Each individual’s financial situation is unique and readers are encouraged to contact the Credit Union when seeking financial advice on the products and services discussed. This article is for educational purposes only; the authors assume no legal responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the contents.